Breast Cancer Riot

random find

“Takes a teen age riot to get me out of bed right now”

-From “Teenage Riot” by Sonic Youth, song released in 1988

A/N I started this post a couple of weeks ago and life kept interfering. But I kept randomly adding stuff to and it became a long beast. What got me to finish was a bit of strange synchronicity. I based the title on that song that imagines king slacker J Masics of Dinosaur Jr. as an alterna-president. Last Saturday night I was delighted when Masics and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth made an unannounced appearance on SNL, in the very tasteful goodbye performance of a departing cast member. It reminded me, hey I need to finish that thing I started.

Reflecting on a few posts regarding the fall-out from that infamous 64%, I started thinking about the challenges of getting the public (as in, those who are lucky enough to not have cancer) to understand some truths about breast cancer, which have been made pretty and untrue by the pink machine, and the media’s inability to get facts right. Dissatisfaction with pink is starting to spread, but the truth is not out there, no matter what Agent Mulder thinks. It is often acknowledged that most people do not want to hear the unpleasant and/or abstract truths. In some comments on other blogs I seem to remember (not sure where, sorry!), someone suggested anarchy (cue the Sex Pistols song getting stuck in my head) as a method for making people pay attention, or hell, even just stopping traffic at an intersection. But anarchy, rioting, and heaven forbid, stopping traffic, would just be viewed as an unpleasant interruption in the public’s daily lives, thus making the masses even more unwilling to hear an unpleasant truth.

Still, I think it is worth it to at least stage a mini or pseudo riot. Maybe a mini riot is what it takes to make the facts more clear. There is so much misinformation out there, it is overwhelming. But driving me craziest lately is the misinformation/misdirection that early detection is somehow equal to prevention. (Yes I’ve already ranted about it before, not just a breast cancer issue). Mammography, a detection tool, is sold as the best defense in that “war” on breast cancer. And people believe it. To paraphrase the late Barbara Brenner in “Pink Ribbons, Inc.”: selling mammography was done too well, so that some women got cancer and confusedly said “but I got my mammogram,” upon hearing their diagnosis, like that mammogram should have protected them against cancer.

There is much animosity toward Komen, and I certainly agree with it, but they aren’t the only culprits. Take the Keep A Breast Foundation….please! They are the ones behind the “I ♥ boobies” bracelets, and according to their website, their whole mission is about education and awareness. This is the great fallacy of most of these organizations. Educate and make me aware of what exactly? That breast cancer exists, that many people will get it? What all these cutesy slogans and stupid products sell is that early detection is the only way to protect oneself. But they fail, egregiously, in telling the public that if that sacred and revered tool—mammogram—actually detects cancer, it is quite likely that breasts will be removed either completely or partially. So much for keeping any breasts. If you’re going to call your organization keep a breast, the singular goal should be research into how to prevent the ways in which tumors get in there and cause, duh, the loss of breasts.

And then there is the Save the Ta-tas stickers and foundation. Yeah, yeah I know, “save the ta-tas” is just a slogan to bring awareness to breast cancer, proceeds go to research that saved your life so stop your whining, you ungrateful breast cancer patient, blah blah blah. But that is NOT what the slogan says. The sticker says only that ta-tas are to be saved, not lives. Always read exactly what something says. When it came to naming their organization, they chose poorly.

A quick (not in depth) look at the Save the Ta-tas Foundation website shows a few admirable points—they donate from gross not profit, and understand they are a marketing or brand organization, not scientists. So on that score, the money goes through a series of hoops and winds up going to the Concern Foundation which disseminates the money to various researchers. Or at least, I went through a series of mouse clicks to try to follow the money (these things are always better at asking the reader for money than telling them what happens to it once pried out of donor hands). The best I can tell (this is lots of clicking; the url says savethetatas, but the actual page isn’t specific about breasts, or perhaps that was a few more clicks away), the grant recipients work on all kinds of cancer, and not strictly in preventative measures, but all kinds of treatments. That is a good thing—all stages and preventative measures should be researched on all kinds of cancers (silly me, I want all cancer cured and prevented…I want the world and I want it now). But how does it save any ta-tas, specifically? I keep reading about the increase in preventative mastectomy, so looks like even less tat-tas are getting saved than ever, even with the alleged progress in science. Save the Ta-tas, you FAILED. It isn’t the truth that bothers me, it was the being lied to in the first place.

I recently complained about a couple of editorials implying that the National Breast Cancer Coalition’s 2020 Deadline should focus on non-breast cancer disease, and whadya know, if I’m reading the Save the Ta-tas Foundation site right, here is one way breast cancer and the pink ribbon is helping other cancer issues: money from ta-ta t-shirt sales goes to this Concern Foundation, and I cannot see that the money is specifically earmarked for breast research; so I assume it is funneled into all the cancer projects. So pink is helping other cancers by the sexualization of breast cancer. While organizations devoted to raising awareness about various other cancers may be trying to imitate the success of pink, they lack the thing that makes selling breast cancer awareness so successful: paraphrasing Brenner in “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” again, with breast cancer, society gets to talk about boobies. I hope folks who defend Brinker, saying CEOs work so hard, remember that she has what all corporations need in the first place, desirable product.

Before anyone begins to howl at me for picking on Save the Ta-tas and Keep a Breast, and for not doing my homework: yeah, kind of the point. Those “save the ta-tas” stickers and boobies bracelets are everywhere. Don’t get so well-known and expect all love, no haters. I’ve always hated them and it was torture to visit their sites; I’d studiously avoided them prior to this. I picked on those two because of the offensiveness of the products, and the visibility. But they are hardly the only ones I could pick on. There are tons of examples of pink deception. My favorite local example? A car wash that advertised one October that in honor of breast cancer awareness month, all ladies got $2 off the price of a car wash; no mention that the $2 would go to any particular organization to help anyone with actual breast cancer; also kind of a nice “fuck you” to men with breast cancer, huh? I don’t have to point out the numerous problems with this do I? And as for not doing lots of hard research on the organizations I picked on, again, that’s the point. I only did what any cancer industry consumer can do, and probably more than most consumers bother to do. No, most folks just buy the pink plastic crap, utilize the service that purports to support breast cancer charity, and blindly think they are helping.

So, getting back to the proposal of this post–why isn’t there more active rioting against the pink. Or at the very least, a cohesive movement that gives a disgruntled soul like myself an alternate to pink. I have a secret fantasy every time I see one of those “save the ta-tas” stickers on a car. I wanna grab a sticky note and write “how about saving my life? –signed, a breast cancer patient who lost part of her breast”, and I could then stick it to the car. I think this comes from spending too much time on funny websites featuring notes people leave on cars admonishing the cars’ owners for offenses like bad parking, blocking other cars in, etc. I don’t think it is illegal exactly, but one could probably get into some sort of trouble for touching other people’s cars, if caught. Or maybe in light of the 64% increase in salary, I can go around to those Walk/Race for the Cure posters, and write on my sticky notes, “salary” and stick it over the word “cure”, that would be ok, right?


I wanna rebel against pink culture, in a way other than ranting in (ahem) my overly wordy posts that are too exasperating to read. I want something as attention-getting as those ta-ta stickers. I want to get the truth out there. And it needs to be short phrases (not a talent I possess), able to change minds in a split second, because no one bothers to read/listen long enough to get the whole story, or if they do, they are unlikely to pay enough attention to get the facts.

In “The Birdcage”, Senator Kevin Keeley (Gene Hackman), said to his wife, “Louise, people in this country aren’t interested in details. They don’t even trust details. The only thing they trust is headlines.” That says it all, doesn’t it? Seventeen years later and the line is still very true. People misconstrue words or fail to listen completely all the time. Flashback to the 80s with me won’t you? Remember when Regan wanted to use “Born In the USA” on the campaign trail until he got clued in that with the song The Boss was not exactly giving a proper salute to the red, white, and blue?  R. E. M.’s first ever Top 40 hit had the lyric “This one goes out to the one I love,” and girls were so busy cooing over that line they failed to hear the next one in which Michael Stipe called his lover “a simple prop to occupy my time”. Yikes, Michael (don’t hate on me, I love that band, seeing them live was one of the best days of my life).

Is it any wonder one of the biggest songs of the 90s, “Baby Got Back”, was much more straightforward? “I like big butts and I cannot lie”. Thank you Sir Mix-A-Lot, for giving us the clearest, most honest song of all time! (For the record I’m not being my usual sarcastic self here—I actually think it is a clever song, despite the objectifying.)

So, short of getting Sir Mix-A-Lot’s help in designing a slogan, song, or campaign, what can be done?

Pretty sure my sticky note idea is not the solution. As stated earlier in this over-long post, I think the time is ripe to motivate the growing numbers of those disenchanted by pink.

“I wanna keep my breasts, Mammogram is a lie/You other sisters can’t deny…”

Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

4 thoughts on “Breast Cancer Riot”

  1. dear CC,

    i dearly wish i had the mental focus to be able to come up with anything that would encapsulate the anti-pink riot you so eloquently advocate for. – but it’s something that i so agree with you about – the time seems right. don’t give up on your clarion call – the times they are a changin’. what you put out, “i wanna keep my breasts, mammogram is a lie…” – definitely a powerful motivator. i bet you have had a good number of readers who also agree and are having a good gnaw over the idea. meanwhile, i’ll keep thinking, for all that’s worth.

    sending out BIG hope and warm hugs, dear friend, XOXO,

    karen, TC


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